Subject: Church leaders plead for peace

Herald Sun Sunday

Church leaders plead for peace

From correspondents in Dili


FRESH fighting erupted among rival ethnic gangs in East Timor's capital Dili this morning, as church leaders pleaded with factions to heal the rifts that have threatened to push the country into all-out civil war.

The clashes occurred at the flashpoint Comoro Bridge area of the city, where police moved in and seized firearms and tear gas canisters from rioters.

Malaysian and Australian troops from the 2,200-strong international force deployed to quell unrest in the capital conducted door to door searches in the area where youths had set fire to homes and were throwing rocks at each other.

The troops moved in with armoured personnel carriers and helicopter support in an attempt to end the clashes, in which at least one man was detained after being found with a pistol.

Ambulance officers at the scene said there had been no injuries so far Sunday but the local hospital said six people were seriously hurt after being hit by rocks in the same area on Saturday and another nine people on Friday.

The latest violence came as church leaders pleaded in Sunday sermons for peace in the Timorese capital, where more than 20 people have been killed in recent violence.

"We cannot respond to violence with violence," father Aniceto Maia said.

"We have to respond to violence with love and truth," he told the congregation at the St Antonio Motael church on Dili's waterfront, where refugees have camped out since last week seeking shelter.

The violence began last month after Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri sacked 600 of the country's 1,400-strong army for going on strike to protest what they said was discrimination against those from the west of the country.

Battles between the military and the sacked breakaway troops, under the command of Major Alfredo Reinado, descended into fighting between rival gangs from the east and west of the country.

International aid agencies estimate that more than 100,000 people have been displaced in the unrest.

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